Another Look at Zim: How To Make an Outline

I’ve blogged about the Zim Desktop Wiki before. It has some really nice features, things like hyperlinking to other pages in my work, hyperlinking to other sources (either on my computer or the internet), checkboxes to help keep track what’s completed and what’s not, and a spell checker. What I’ve had trouble with, is organizing. I haven’t been able to make the outline in my head a reality in the index pane on the left. I’ve looked at the documentation, but it’s pretty slim in the explanation department. Tutorials on the web seem nonexistent, and YouTube videos show more about what it can do than how to do it.

In a huge “duh” moment, I finally realized that Zim’s index categorizes everything alphabetically. For some projects this would be useful, but for an outline, not so much. especially if there are a lot of points on that outline and therefore a lot of categories and subcateories. To get the outline I want, I simply prefixed the pages and subpages so that they would stay in my outline order.

Zim will arrange things according to the letter (A., B, a., b., c., etc) or number (1., 2., 3., etc.). This way I can keep my outline points and subpoints to stay where I want them on Zim’s index.

There are a number of ways to create new linked pages in Zim. The challenge was trying to link pages in my text to the same location as those listed in my index pane. If I created a new page page from the text itself, it popped up in the index as a new and separate page. I finally figured out to copy the link location in the index and link the text to it.

Once I copied the link location I could highlight “Bibliography” in the text pane and select “link”. I pasted the link location in the “Link to:” field, hit “link,” and the job was done.

I tried browse button as well, but it would link me to the text files that Zim had created, not to the Zim page itself.

In the above example, I can now access my Bibliography page from either the index or the “7. End Matter” page.

Figuring out how to use Zim to meet my personal writing needs took quite a bit of trial and error, but – I think I’ve got it. I can write my entire text in Zim, enjoying the organization of it, and not have to bother with LibreOffice Writer at all. Zim will export each page as a text file, which makes it perfect for importing into Scribus.

Maybe I can now get down to some serious work.

Nifty LibreOffice Trick for Hyperlinking an eBook TOC

MS Word offers a split screen feature, where one can work on two parts of the same document simultaneously. LibreOffice doesn’t have that feature, but it can do something similar to make the job of creating an eBooks table of contents just as easy.

LO_nifty_trick1

By selecting “New Window” in an open document, a second copy of the document will open. I can create my bookmarks for the TOC on one

LO_nifty_trick2band create my hyperlinks with the other.

LO_nifty_trick3bChanges are made on both copies; I only have to save on the original. The beauty of this is that I can easily see which sections have been hyperlinked, and which ones haven’t.

How to Write a Better Review for Amazon (Or Anyplace Else)

How many of you use customer reviews when deciding whether to purchase something? I certainly do. I usually read the “most helpful” 5 star and critical reviews, choose a few in between, then make choices based on my analysis of these.

Reviews took on a different meaning when I published my own book. Of course I hoped for lots of 5 star reviews and dreaded the first 1, 2, or 3 star reviews. I didn’t know what to expect either way, but mostly I hoped for reviews that would help me become a better writer and publisher.

In reading reviews, I mentally categorize them as either helpful or not helpful. This isn’t based on the reviewer’s rating of the product, but rather on the content of the review itself.

A rating system (stars at Amazon, for example) is subjective. Very subjective. A helpful review explains the reasoning behind the rating. I once had someone tell me that they never gave 5 star reviews because they didn’t trust them. Their review of my book was an excellent, well-written one, but I’m sure it left folks wondering why it got dinged one star.

Being a subjective assessment, the rating often reflects the reader’s previous knowledge and expertise on the subject matter. The book may be excellent at an introductory level, but less helpful for someone looking for more advanced or specific material and therefore get a variety of ratings. The rating will reflect the reader’s expectations plus how well their needs were met. Reading multiple review helps determine this, but I think the author can help by disclosing this in the blurbs. Potential customers can also ask questions (on Amazon, at least) to clarify their own concerns.

Another problem with the rating system is that it is sometimes improperly directed. With products, for example a low rating is often given to a good product if a customer has a bad experience with a third party seller. It would be better if the reviewer used the proper venue for this, by leaving third party seller feedback.

One thing that helps is that Amazon enables other customers to rate and leave feedback on the comments. I find these useful as well.

So what makes for a good review?

For products, I tend to skip over reviews from folks who’ve just purchased or only had the item for several weeks. At this stage, everyone rates well unless they had a bad customer experience or got a dud (although too many duds or a consistent specific problem doesn’t bode well for the manufacturer). A review from someone who has been using the product for months or longer is much more useful.

If a rating is less than 5 stars, my first question is “why?” Personal opinion is never right or wrong, but the rationale for the rating may help someone else in their decision making. Often, the product if fine but doesn’t meet the buyer’s expectations. That’s where good product descriptions and customer reviews help if they contain good details. For books, especially non-fiction, it often means that the blurb does not accurately reflect the content. I’ll be the first one to admit that writing a blurb for oneself is extremely difficult. Yes, it’s a opportunity to sell books, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity to let the reader know what to expect.

Last but definitely not least, is giving a rationale for the rating. If it didn’t meet expectations, why not? Give some examples of what you liked and what you didn’t. Was it helpful? Tell us how. Did anything stand out? Tell us what. Is there something you wished was different? Give us details. Was the book interesting, humorous, thought provoking? Would you read it again or recommend it to others?

Personally I think customer reviews are one of the best innovations to hit marketing, especially in a day and age when the truth in “truth in advertising” has been redefined (as has “quality). So, take some time to review products or books that you have something to say about. I invite you to take a look at my book reviews (including my first 3 star and first spam review) here. If you have the time and inclination, please join the conversation.

How to Install a Script in Scribus

I recently had a problem with text I was preparing with Scribus desktop publisher. I needed a number of Semitic words, which I was easily able to copy and paste into the story editor. They looked fine there, but when I clicked the green check (okay) icon, the words were spelled backward in their text boxes. Scribus apparently only recognizes languages which are written left to right; most Semitic languages are written right to left.

This is a known bug for Scribus, which means developers know it’s something that needs to be fixed and should be working on. Being open source, however, development is done on a voluntary basis. That means that unless the problem is an urgent one which effects many users, a fix may be slow in the making.

Thankfully, someone wrote a script for this problem. A script is a bit of computer code which accomplishes a specific task or series of tasks. That meant all I had to do was copy the code and install it into Scribus. But how?

I found help at the Floss Manual website, Scribus – Scripter and Scripts. It was a simple matter of copying and pasting the script into a text editor, and saving as a .py file. Python is the language in which many scripts are written.

When I need to use the menu, I access it from Scribus’s Script menu. The first time I had to choose “execute script” and browse to the folder I saved the script in. After that, it showed up under Script > Recent Scripts.

Scribus

Initially I pasted the Hebrew words into the English paragraph. I learned the executing the script flipped the entire contents of the text frame! I had to go through each frame, cut the specific word, and put it in its own text frame. It’s a bit of work but worth it for the final result.

For more information on Scribus scripts (and a list of useful scripts), visit the scripts page at the Scribus wiki.

Digital Images, Print Size, and DPI

One problem self-publishers have with images is getting the printer’s required dots per inch while maintaining the desired image size. It doesn’t take much doodling with an image editor such as GIMP, to discover that as one increases the photo size (either in pixels or inches) the image quality decreases. The choice seems to be clear but tiny images, or large and fuzzy images.

I was equally frustrated with this problem and did some searching around on the internet. I finally found the solution at the CreateSpace forums. (Thank you Seal, wherever you are).

Here’s how to do it in the GIMP.

  1. Open image in GIMP
  2. Image > Scale image > change the X and Y resolution to desired DPI, usually 300  (make sure these are locked)
  3. File > Export image under a new file name (never overwrite your original)
  4. Now change the image size to desired width and height.
  5. File > overwrite (you may save to a new file name if you wish)

Your new image should be the size you want for your book, and at the printer’s required DPI.

I should mention another term you’ll see, PPI. PPI (pixels per inch) and DPI (dots per inch), are often used interchangeably, but technically they are not the same thing. DPI is a term that describes the abilities of a printer. PPI describes the size of a file on a computer screen. If you have question, clarify it with your chosen publisher.

 

How To Build An Index

A nonfiction book needs a good index. I can’t imagine how folks did it before word processors; it must have been tedious work. It still is, but a word processor is invaluable. I’m sure there are other ways to do this, but here’s how I’m building my index. In the example here, I’m using LibreOffice 3.5.

I did the first step by hand. I took a set of large index cards, enough for each letter of the alphabet. I read through each chapter, and jotted down potential words for my index on the cards, each word according to the letter with which it began. I put an asterisk by words that might have subcategories, such as “goat*”.

The next step was to alphabetize. I did this with a spreadsheet, here LibreOffice Calc.

index_making1

  • I typed in the words from my index card, one column, one word per cell.
  • Click the A -> Z button (top right)

This was copied and pasted into my book template. But first, to remove the spreadsheet formatting, I pasted the alphabetized list into my favorite handy little tool, Leafpad.

leafpad

Leafpad is a simple, open source text editor, similar to Notepad for Windows. It removes all formatting from not only the spreadsheet, but also any word processor. It was especially helpful for copying and pasting proofread pages, especially since my editor uses a different word processor.

I copied and pasted from Leafpad into my index template.

before page numbers

As you can see, I used two columns. Italics for titles had to be added, because it was removed by Leafpad. I indented subcategories under my index words.

To find the page numbers, I first needed my entire book as one document. This was quicker than going through each chapter as separate documents. I created a combined chapter file, including appendices, for the purpose of creating my index.

Something that is key here, I think, is to only do this after all editing and changes have been made. There is nothing worse than trying to find a word from an index, only to discover that the page number of the word has changed. This is due to last minute editing. To make sure my index matched my text, I had to have the entire book edited and formatted with photos and diagrams, and have page numbers added.

I use the “find” feature of my word processor to find the words and their page numbers.

index_bulding_word_search

I wrote these in my index, and arrowed through the text, to find the next page on which the word occurred. Because the spreadsheet is neither embedded nor linked to, I can easily make changes on the index pages themselves – indenting and adding new subcategories for example.

buck_search

Neither do I have to start at the beginning of the text for each new word.

end_of_document

LibreOffice will offer to continue searching from the beginning of the document once it reaches the last page.

One tip that makes the process go a little faster, is to use singular forms of words or partial words in one’s searches. “Butter” for example.

butter search

This way I find not only butter, but butterfat, buttermilk, and other words I want such as butter crock, butter making, freezing butter, clarified butter, and butternut squash.

Once I finish adding all the page numbers to the index, I will finish formatting them, and add page numbers to the index itself. Then I’ll be ready for the next step.

So. To Create A Table of Contents, I Must Learn to Make A Table. Duh.

I’ve become a stickler for formatting. Everything must be just so. After doodling around with a table of contents in the word processor, trying to smooth out slightly uneven edges, it finally occurred to me that what was needed was a table.  Oh joy, another learning curve, albeit a small one.

Some might suggest I create it in a spreadsheet first, and import it to my word processor, but that would likely be a steeper curve. Am I getting lazy in my old age???

Creating An Index

The most important part of a non-fiction book, in my thinking, is the index. Nothing is more annoying than a scanty one, nor one that didn’t seem worth the effort to do well. I confess it irritates me if, for example, I want to look up “cherry pie,” only to find that entry telling me “see pie, cherry”. It would take less characters to simply put the page number in both places!

Granted, it is a huge task, as I’m learning. I don’t think I could do it without my computer, word processor, and spreadsheet. Not as easily or thoroughly anyway.

My procedure is this:

  1. Read through each chapter and appendix, and make a list of words and terms on alphabetized index cards.
  2. Type the words from the cards into a spreadsheet.
  3. Click on A to Z order to alphabetize.
  4. Select all and copy from the spreadsheet. (For a list of the software I’m using, click here.)
  5. Paste into simple text editor to remove formatting.
  6. Copy and paste onto my book index.
  7. Next will be to put all the chapters into a single document. This can only be done once the proofing, editing, and last minute changes are complete.
  8. Then add page numbers.
  9. Finally, use the find feature on my word processor to find the terms in my index, and copy the page numbers.

True, this will still be time consuming, but I hope will be worth it for the reader.